Steadfast

Page 44

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He thought of going back to her, but no. Verlaine would be with her remaining father now; they needed each other. There was little else for Asa to do but go home.

The mood was a little strained around the Prasad home at present. Mom had been allowed to come home two days earlier, having shown no further signs of dangerous behavior. (When not influenced by magic spells, Mrs. Prasad could come no closer to violence than cooking her superspicy curry.) Still, she remained shaken, and Dad kept agreeing to absolutely anything she said so as to avoid setting off another “incident.” This of course irritated her more than any argument could, so both of them remained tense and cranky.

However, Asa did his best, telling funny stories about school that made them smile, and asking his mother what she wanted for her birthday next week. Her face lit up so brightly that he knew, beyond any doubt, that Jeremy Prasad had never remembered his mother’s birthday in his life.

So. Errands for evil Sorceress: taken care of. Verlaine: in the best place she could be. Prasad parents: pacified.

And yet he still had to do forty-five minutes’ worth of medieval history homework before bed.

I’ve known people from the fourteenth century, he mused as he started outlining his paper about the Hundred Years’ War. You’d think it would speed things up a little. But no. And I’m being forced to assist in an apocalypse I’d rather never see; could it at least happen before this paper is due? Of course not.

Around nine p.m., his father appeared in the doorway of his room. “Hard at work, I see.”

“History.”

“Your mother seems well. Doesn’t she?”

“Yeah.” Then, thinking better of his casual reply, Asa tried to assume a more stricken expression, one that would make it clear he was anguished but finding the strength to carry on . . . something like that. Of course he knew his mother was fine, that she’d just run into an amateurishly executed couple of spells. But nobody else knew it yet, so a little more concern was called for.

“I just wanted to say, you’ve really come through these past couple of weeks. For your mother and for me.” Mr. Prasad looked surprisingly moved. “You’ve made some changes recently. Keeping your room clean, not talking back, doing your homework. Don’t think we haven’t noticed. It meant a lot to your mom, you being there for her.”

“We’re family. That’s what family does.” At least, as far as Asa remembered.

Mr. Prasad smiled, slightly disbelieving. “You’re finally starting to grow up, son.” Then he shuffled off to bed.

Asa glanced at the screen saver on his computer, which was a collection of pictures Jeremy had taken over the past several months. Girls in bikinis either pretending they would flash him or actually doing it; him and his friends hanging on one another while drunk; one of a guy vomiting on the beach while Jeremy laughed: The sheer monotony of it was clear to Asa, even if it hadn’t been to Jeremy. This was all just sensation—the most primitive kind—apparently selfish and certainly thoughtless.

Jeremy’s face came up again, this time as he stood behind the wheel of a speedboat. He didn’t seem to be watching where he was going—on the water at a speed that, to judge by the flumes of sea spray behind him, could be no less than sixty-five miles an hour. Really, it was a miracle Elizabeth had even gotten the chance to kill him; by rights, Jeremy ought to have died of pure idiocy long ago.

Asa murmured, “I’m a better you than you ever were.”

15

“YOU SURE YOU’RE OKAY, SWEETHEART?”

Nadia did her best to smile at her dad. “Yeah. I’m fine.” Then again—her eyes were probably red and puffy, and her throat was hoarse from all the crying she’d done. Coming up with an excuse would throw him off. “I guess I’m just upset about Verlaine’s uncle Gary.”

“He seemed like such a great guy. I kept meaning to ask them over for dinner some night, cook some burgers on the grill or something.” Her father could only cook outside, over open fire; when he walked into a kitchen, it was a different story. That was why Nadia was the one putting a lasagna into the oven now. “The same weird thing that happened to that girl at”—he glanced over at Cole, who was in the living room watching SpongeBob SquarePants with rapt fascination—“at L-A-C-A-T-R-I-N-A?”

“Yeah.”

“And the doctors still don’t have a clue what that is? Doesn’t look like any disease I’ve ever heard of. Something in the water, maybe? We have to get one of those filters.” He sighed heavily and leaned against the kitchen counter. “I really should have gotten to know Gary better.”

“He’s not dead, Dad. He’s just in a coma. So think positive and stop with the past tense, okay?”

“You’re right. Sorry.”

Dad wasn’t looking so good himself lately. He hadn’t been sleeping well, to judge by the late-night pacing in his room; his eyes were shadowed, and he’d lost some weight, despite Nadia’s best efforts with waffles and pasta. The last time he’d looked like this much of a wreck had been in the first few weeks after Mom had left.

Nadia hated knowing why he wasn’t sleeping. Every time her mind turned to the idea of what he was thinking about during those sleepless hours—who he was thinking about—her stomach twisted uncomfortably. Elizabeth’s hold over him had closed around their home like a cold, thick fog no amount of sunshine could dispel. Betrayer’s Snare might protect him if and when Elizabeth tried to strike at him again, but it could not undo the dark magic she’d used. That was beyond Nadia’s power.

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